It was November, 1976. I had just moved back to Jacksonville Florida, with my three young daughters after many years away. We were struggling, and I wondered what kind of a Thanksgiving I was going to be able to make for my children.
We were living in a small trailer, and I was looking for a job while trying to convince my girls, and myself, that this was all an adventure.
My youngest child, Helen, was barely three years old, but from the beginning of her first lisped words, Helen seemed to have a sense of decency and wisdom way beyond her years. The children were all excited about Thanksgiving. The anticipated feast was all the girls talked about.
Two days before Thanksgiving, there was a flash fire in a nearby home, and a young family lost everything. The entire community became involved in the rescue of the couple and their young daughter. Shelter was donated by a church, and it seemed that everyone was involved in the collection of food, household items, bedding and clothes. I was thankful that even I was able to spare a few things.
Brigades of busy people willingly donated their time, as well as money. I was certain the tragedy was especially hard for the family this close to Thanksgiving, and I was grateful that someone was available to come to our house and pick up our donated items. Helen was very thoughtful for one so young, and I made myself a little crazy imagining what she must be thinking about the fire.
Finally, on the afternoon before Thanksgiving, two lovely women came to our house to collect our donations. How I wished I had more to give, I said, as I helped carry the donations out. They reassured me that the family would be well provided for. The girls and I stood outside chatting, as the ladies climbed back into their station wagon.
All of a sudden Helen shrieked, “ WAIT!! Don’t anybody move!” She streaked into the trailer door, crying aloud, “WE FORGOT SOMETHINGGGG!!!” I looked apologetically at the ladies, but before I could follow her, Helen was back outside, holding onto her favorite teddy bear, the bear that I had made for her birthday, just two months before. Helen held out the bear, her green eyes searching my face.
“Mommy,” Helen implored, “the little girl doesn’t have any toys. She needs this bear! I have to give it to her.” My heart quaked. I thought about the few toys Helen had and how many hours I had spent sewing that little bear. Now she wanted to give it away.
We stood in stunned silence, the ladies staring at me. I struggled with my feelings. All the love I’d put into that bear. All the things we needed and didn’t have. Surely Helen could find another toy. Then I stooped down to face Helen, who was still holding out the bear, worry lines creasing her little forehead. I searched her little heart shaped face, my fingers brushing aside her red-gold hair. My eyes filled as I realized that my heart would never be as big as the heart pounding in that little chest.
My voice broke, as I said, “Of course, Helen, you’re right. We forgot the toy. How thoughtful of you to remember.” Helen, grinning, handed over the beautiful bear.
When the ladies drove away, I took my little girl and held her close. For she had made our Thanksgiving, the richest Thanksgiving of all.
MAY ALL THE BLESSINGS OF THIS THANKSGIVING BE YOURS, NOW AND ALWAYS.